Parliamentary library and research services have the mission to deliver high-quality services – but what does ‘quality’ mean? Put your own rankings on the cars above – what does it is say about your idea of ‘quality’?
Many people would apply the defintion of ‘top quality’ to either the Range Rover or the Mercedes, illustrating the popular sense of ‘quality’ as the best possible. If, however, you consider the ratings of ‘Which?’ magazine, then the Skoda is just ahead of the Mercedes and far ahead of the Range Rover, at about one-tenth of the price of the latter. ‘Which?’ is the voice of a UK consumers’ organisation that both surveys its members on car reliability and conducts ‘objective’ assessment of the cars. If the choice is about simply a form of transport to get reliably from A to B at a reasonable price, then the Skoda appears the ‘quality’ choice.
If, however, the choice is about something more than reliable transport at a good price, then the ratings of the car enthusiasts at ‘Top Gear’ magazine put the Range Rover ahead of our other two examples, while the somewhat less exuberant ‘What Car’ magazine ranks the Mercedes highest. These two magazines also run assessments of the cars, but they are perhaps more concerned with the subjective driving experience, luxury and prestige aspects than are the ‘Which?’ assessments.
So, three expert assessments of ‘quality’ and three different results! If we accept that the ‘Which?’ tests are based on more evidence and a more systematic scientific approach, then it would seem their assessment is a truer test of quality. That would illustrate another popular sense of ‘quality’ – the best based on scientific/technical criteria and testing. The ‘Top Gear’ and ‘What Car’ ratings are, however, not wrong. For many car buyers, their choice of vehicle is about much more than hard science/economics. The Range Rover and Mercedes have ‘quality’ in different senses to the Skoda. This illustrates a third definition of quality: it is not about a technical defintion of quality, it is defined by the client. Quality is what the client says it is.
The relevance of this illustration to parliamentary library & research services: are your products and services aiming to be Range Rovers, Mercedes or Skodas? Some of the products and services out there can be considered closer to the Range Rover – large, elaborate and full of features – than to the Skoda. Maybe clients actually need something smaller and simpler that does the job reliably? Other products might be considered as meeting a technical defintion of ‘quality’ like the Skoda but lacking the features and branding, like those of the Range Rover or Mercedes, that would make them really attractive to some clients. In any case, library and research products might meet the producer’s idea of client needs but might not correspond to client wants or even objective needs. Just three questions: what do you consider to be quality, what do your clients consider to be quality, and what should you do about any differences? Plus a supplementary question: how do you know what your clients consider as ‘quality’?
Want to read more on quality? An introduction to managing quality for parliamentary research services is in the post ‘Quality management basics for parliamentary research services’.
Range Rover: Photo by DeFacto - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54236669
Mercedes: Photo by Mr.choppers - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31772423
Skoda: Photo by Vauxford - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70832092
‘Which?’, ‘What Car’ and ‘Top Gear’ websites, December 2019.